The Ireland St. Patrick Came To

  • Created by: amyharkin
  • Created on: 19-05-16 14:35

Ireland before Patrick

What we know about Ireland at this time:

  • The slave trade was a feature of Irish life - displayed by Patrick's Confessio and Letter
  • Decentralised society - no cities/towns, no coinage, no central administration
  • Wealth and status were based on cattle - Celts lived agricultural lives
  • Well-to-do people lived in ringforts/raths i.e. a defensive structure - a wooden enclosure
  • Houses/dwelling were usually wooden simple structures - very little evidence left
  • A hillfort often marked a royal site e.g. Tara - earthwork encircling the crest of a hill
  • Ireland had not been conquered by Rome - lay on the edge of the known world, however Roman influences existed through trade, e.g. metalwork and pottery
  • No organised system of religious belief but an ill-defined mixture of practices and beliefs - little evidence of formal worship, hints of sun-worship and semi-religious regard for elements of fire, wind, water and sky, magical practices and superstitions also existed
  • Liam de Paor - "we must imagine a heretic society at a high level of barbarian culture"
  • Dr Binchy - describes Ireland as tribal, hierarchical and familiar

St Patrick brought to this society a Church - he preached the Gospel to an environment of prehistoric tradition and thought.

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How Patrick adopted his mission to Ireland

"Patrick's six years in Ireland... gave him an awareness of its socio-political structure" - W&B

Patrick had to fit Christianity into the society in which he was working - policy was one of incuturation - attempted to adapt the religious practices of the Celts to Christianity

He was anxious to buil up a native clergy - needed assistance - to support his mission and to encourage men and women to take up some form of religious life - approach to women was Christ-like and alien to the male dominated society of fifth century Ireland

Three - The Trinity

Dr Green - the idea of "divinity having triple identity was a key element in Celtic Religion"  Celts would be more open to adopting the Christian teaching on the trinity - father, Son, Holy Spirit

Trees - Sanctuaries

The Celts venerated certain trees and held groves as sanctuaries - Patrick adopted practice of a sanctuary into a Christian perspective - reverence for trees continus into Christian Era even today with names of trees appearing in place names e.g. Newry

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How Patrick adopted his mission to Ireland


Celts regarded graves as holy places and believed in the otherworld - Tir na Og - therefore Patrick able to incorporate Christian teaching of venerating dead, blessing of graves, eternal life etc

Sacred wells - Water

Celts had sanctuaries associated with rivers, springs and wells - life-giving, associated with fertility, motherhood, strength and purification: adapted by Patrick to the Christian teaching on baptism - symbol of healing and purification, holy wells incorporated into Christianity e.g St Columb's well

Festivals - Christian Calendar

Four main festivals marked the Celtic Year easily adapted to the Christian calendar - Samhain is Christian All Soul's Day, Imbolc is Christian St Brigid's Day, Bealtine is the Month of Mary and Lughnasa relates to the Christian Croagh Patrick

Patrick entirely rejected certain aspects of culture e.g idols - made every effort during mission to stamp these practices out, adapting sun worship to worship the true Son etc

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How Patrick adopted his mission to Ireland

Patrick's success was mainly due to his familiarity of the country since boyhood and the commonsense approach he adapted to the task in hand

Summary of Ireland before Patrick:

  • People were illiterature so Patrick had to communicate in ways other than written - perhaps visual signs and symbols to teach message - also a language barrier as Patrick spoke Latin
  • Travel difficulties - unorganised traffic, tribal control - Patrick bought safe travel from kings
  • Distrustful society - no towns - ecclesiastical approach for missionary work did not apply
  • Generations of pagans lived before Patrick and were naturally prejudiced of the new faith - treated with suspicion for fear that it may upset social structure, those who benefited from social structure were its greatest opponents e.g. the druids
  • Patrick defied male-dominated society by explaining ideal of Christian perfection to women
  • As kings were at top of social strata, Patrick decded to convert them first so their clients follow
  • After a period of time, Patrick dividing the country into Diocese, each ruled by a Bishop - corresponded to the boundaries for the kingdoms/tuathas

Patrick opened the country up to Latin civilisation, turned an illiterate land into poets and scholars, converted Irish from conquerors into fevrent Christians and enthusiastic evangelists

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